How to Get Subscribers for Your B2B Email Newsletter [And How Not To]

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Email Marketing

If you want a successful B2B email newsletter, it goes without saying that you’ll need subscribers. Plenty of subscribers. So in addition to our articles on B2B newsletter strategy and B2B newsletter content ideas, we wanted to give you a toolkit of tactics for how to get more subscribers.

However… before I dive too deeply into how to get subscribers, I’d like to talk a little bit about how not to get subscribers. There are three common traps people get tangled up in:

  • They attempt to buy subscribers – by buying an email list
  • They don’t tag new subscribers so they can evaluate their list-building tactics later
  • They send their email newsletter to people who didn’t expressly sign up for it

Three list-building mistakes to avoid

Each one of these mistakes can do serious damage to your list-building plans. Here’s how (and why) to avoid them:

1. Don’t buy subscribers

This may be hard to say no to. Building a list takes time – it’s so incredibly tempting to just go buy a list of 10,000 or even 100,000 subscribers. Especially because they’re so cheap – you can easily scoop up these sorts of lists for pennies per subscriber.

Trouble is, you’d be wasting every penny. Here’s why:

  • Most reputable email service providers will not allow you to mail to a purchased list.
    This is because of the extremely high rate of spam complaints from purchased lists. And as you probably, know, high spam complaints hurt deliverability. A company that enjoys high deliverability rates and strong trust with the major service providers will not risk its reputation by allowing its clients to mail to purchased lists. So even if you could get subscribers for pennies each, you wouldn’t be able to mail to them.
  • Purchased lists tend to perform poorly.
    That’s a nice way of saying it. Actually, purchased lists tend to perform so badly that if you calculated how much it cost you to get one action from a purchased list, then compared how much it cost to get that action from an in-house built list, you might discover the action from the purchased list costs five times more, or worse.I have seen purchased lists catastrophically tank twice in my career. It wasn’t pretty. One was a $20,000 travel catalog mailing to a purchased list (we got not one booked trip, and not even an inquiry from that investment) of 30,000 names.

The other was out of my own pocket, when I rented a list to sell a gift box to a list of 50,000 people who supposedly had bought similar gift-type products in the last six months. I got not one order … from all 50,000 email addresses.

So please, don’t blow your budget (and your precious time) on purchasing a list.

2. Don’t lump subscribers from your different list building tactics all together

This is about tracking where your subscribers come from, so you can assess the value of those subscribers from each different list source later.

For example – that Facebook contest you ran to build your email list? When you add those people to your database, include a tag that identifies the source (if your email service provider has this functionality) or treat them as a separate list. That way you can measure how engaged they are and how much business you’ve gotten from that list source.

This can be extremely valuable information later on. It’s particularly valuable when you’re just starting out. You’ll probably want to try at least 3-5 different list-building techniques all at once, and being able to track how these different subscriber sources perform over time can reveal valuable insights.

Often, getting a subscriber via one channel – say AdWords advertising – costs more than getting a subscriber through, say, Twitter advertising. But if those AdWords subscribers end up converting into dramatically better leads, then maybe they’re worth paying for.

Want another reason to keep your subscriber sources separate? It gives you the option of sending them a customized Welcome email. It also gives you the option of customizing what content you send them.

3. Be careful about sending your email newsletter to people who haven’t specifically signed up for it.

This one’s a wee bit controversial … “controversial” for email marketing, at least. But there are people who don’t think it’s okay to add someone to an email newsletter list just because they downloaded a content asset, or signed up for something unrelated to the newsletter.

The proponents of this view say “Hey – I didn’t sign up for your newsletter. I gave you my information because I had to in order to get that whitepaper.” They certainly have a point, but it does throw a wrench in many B2B lead nurturing programs. Take note, too, that B2Cers have almost the exact same problem, when people who have placed an order are automatically put on a newsletter list.

Fortunately, the solution to this is simple. Add a checkbox near the end of the form, with some copy that says something like, “Please send me your newsletters, too.” Leave the box unchecked, and send the newsletters only to people who actively opt in (i.e., they check the box). (That opt-in process – as opposed to opt-out – is a legal requirement in Canada and Europe, by the way.)

As I’m sure you’ve guessed, adding that checkbox will significantly reduce how many subscribers you’ll get. But you will end up with a higher-quality list, as the recipients will expect your newsletter, And you’ll have done your part to further distance email marketing from spamming.

Here’s an alternative to that check box: When people give you their email address for webinar signups or anything else, send them an email message pitching your newsletter. Or include a pitch to sign up for your newsletter in the confirmation email for the initial action.

Now that we’ve got all the “don’ts” out of the way, here are some of the most effective ways to get subscribers for your email newsletter.

Ten proven ways to get subscribers for your B2B email newsletter

1. Have a description of your newsletter that makes it sound like it’s worth reading.

A great description will improve all your other list-building tactics. Get it right, and your opt-in rates could double.

Here’s the bottom line on why this is so important: It’s not 1999 anymore. We’re all drowning in email. We don’t want more of it. If you’re going to get people to sign up for your newsletter, you’ve got to make it worth their attention. Saying something like “Stay up to date with company news” is probably not enough.

2. Make your newsletter worth reading.

I mean no offense. But all content still needs to pass the “if you didn’t work in your company, would you read this?” test. Even if you happen to be in a “boring industry” do your best to expand your content’s scope enough for it to be interesting – at least to people in your niche. You don’t have to bring Cirque du Soleil magnetism to your content, but do the best you can.

Remember: You’re going to spend a lot of time creating and promoting your newsletter. You’ll spend even more time getting subscribers. Wouldn’t you feel better about all that time invested if the product you were creating and promoting was actually good?

Want to know a secret trick to make your B2B email newsletter worth reading? Include some content in it that’s not available anywhere else. The Content Marketing Institute does a good job of this in their newsletters. They include a short essay once a week – only about 500-600 words long. It’s usually just a restatement of what they’ve talked about in their podcast (way to re-use content!) but sometimes it’s a stand-alone piece. Either way, every single time, it’s worth reading.

3. Use landing pages.

According to the marketers who contributed to Ascend2’s latest Email List Strategy Survey, landing pages are the most effective list-building tactic. They’re also one of the easiest to execute.

Why do landing pages work so well? They focus attention. If you send someone to your site’s homepage, they’ll have over a dozen options for what to do. Not so if you send them to a landing page. There, they’ve got only one thing to do: Sign up.

It’s a good idea to create a separate landing page for every distinct traffic source you’ve got. So, for instance:

  • A landing page for people coming from your Facebook page
  • A landing page for people coming from a specific ad you’re running on a third party site
  • A landing page for anyone who gets a forwarded email and decides to sign up
  • A landing page for a guest blog post

You get the idea. While all those landing pages can be a challenge to manage, they will result in more email subscribers. A tailored page reminds the visitor why they came there, and it’s more personal.

4. Add an opt-in form to the footer of every page on your website.

Don’t make people hunt for where to sign up for your newsletter. Add a sign-up form to every page on your site. This is especially easy if you add the form to the footer area. Space in the header area is highly competitive real estate. Footers are usually much easier to add another element to, and they’ll still get decent visibility. In my own tests, I found that adding a footer increased email opt-ins by about 20%.

5. Add an opt-in form to the navigation column on your blog.

Just like we’ve done on this page (a little up and on the left). This isn’t a complicated tactic. It’s based on the idea that there should always be an opt-in form somewhere nearby, wherever your site visitor is.

6. Add opt-in forms to the close of every blog post – unless you’ve got a lead gen offer there that’s better.

The area right below the close of a blog post is valuable real estate. The people who see it have usually just finished reading – they’ve proved they care about what you’re saying. They’re probably hungry for more, open to a suggestion for something else to do.

Don’t let them down. Either offer a related lead generation offer to “gated content” or ask them to sign up for your email list.

7. Pre-announce your newsletters on social media – with a link to sign up.

Having a large social media following is great. Converting those followers into email subscribers is even better.

You can do this by promoting gated content, of course, but one of the simplest ways is to just announce your newsletter a day or so before you publish it. This works especially well when there’s content in your newsletter that’s not available anywhere else.

8. Ask for sign ups at conferences and other events.

Fishbowls can still work for this, but they look a little dodgy (and a lot old-school). Handwritten signup sheets can work, too – though you’ll lose some subscribers due to bad handwriting. One of the slickest options is to use a tablet with an app designed to capture email addresses and other information. They work well, but don’t let your tablets wander off.

9. Consider a pop-up.

I know, I know: You hate pop-ups. They’re annoying and you’re worried you’ll alienate your visitors with them. I hear you. But pop-ups work … oh my goodness, they work. A successful pop-up can double your opt-ins. Seriously.

And they don’t have to be so annoying. Here are a few ways to practice proper pop-up etiquette:

  • Delay the pop-up so it shows after someone has been on your site for at least 60 seconds.
  • Don’t show the pop-up on every page the visitor sees – set it to show no more than once a week.
  • Make sure the pop-up is mobile-friendly.
  • Consider having multiple pop-ups, each based on what kind of content the visitor is viewing. Relevant offers always come off as less annoying.

10. Have everybody in your company include a call to action to sign up for the newsletter in their email signature file.

Email signature files can be powerful little marketing devices. And while this tactic won’t get you thousands of subscribers, the people who sign up through this channel are often more engaged. (No surprise; they know you).

One tip: Send people to a landing page specifically designed for email signature opt-ins.

Bonus list-building tip.

Add a sign up link to your email newsletters, too. That way if they get forwarded, the recipient can sign up easily. Like this:

Conclusion

More and more marketers are getting savvy about building their email newsletter lists – they don’t just want as many subscribers as possible, they want quality subscribers. This is a good thing for several reasons, but it does mean you’ll want to be more careful about how you build your list. And that, in turn, may mean your list grows more slowly.

Just keep testing and tracking where your quality subscribers come from, and you’ll do fine. Better to have a list of 1,000 super-responsive subscribers than a list of 5,000 people who seldom ever open your newsletter.

Back to you

Are you using any of these list building tactics? Are there any others I haven’t mentioned here? If you’ve got a tip, it’d be great to hear from you in the comments.

Ready to move past increasing email subscriptions and learn new techniques to optimize your email results? Check out Act-On’s eBook, The Amazingly Effective Email Guide, and we will give you five tips for more successful – and more profitable – email campaigns, including how to increase engagement with responsive and mobile-friendly design, ideas for effective trigger email messages, and more!